Odds for Each CBB Bubble Team Making March Madness Pre-Conference Tourneys
It is officially bubble-popping season in men's college basketball.
With barely a week remaining until Selection Sunday, every win feels like a big one and every loss feels even bigger. And with the major-conference tournaments on the horizon, the bubble pressure is getting intense.
What are the chances that each of the current bubble teams makes the cut?
Based on a combination of resumes, seeding in the Bracket Matrix and the remaining schedules, we've placed tournament odds on the teams currently among the last four in and the first four out.
Please also keep in mind that if one or more among Gonzaga, Nevada, Wofford and Buffalo lose in their conference tournaments—or if a team like DePaul or Rutgers comes out of nowhere to steal a bid by winning a major-conference tournament—then the at-large pool shrinks. It's not likely, but it's possible that none of these eight teams get in. That is factored into the moneyline odds (+200 means bet $100 to win $200).
The following teams are listed in ascending order of percent chance to get in, beginning with Creighton as the long shot and ending with Seton Hall as the one most likely to make the Big Dance.
Creighton Blue Jays
Resume: 16-13, NET 48, KP 48, SOS 10, NC SOS 28, 3-10 vs. Q1, 6-3 vs. Q2, 7-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Current Spot in Bracket Matrix: Fourth Team Out
Remaining Schedule: vs. DePaul, Big East Tournament (projected No. 5 seed)
There's always one team that gets left for dead in mid-February following a substantial losing streak but comes roaring back over the final few weeks of the regular season. This year, that team is Creighton.
The Blue Jays were 13-13 a few weeks ago after four consecutive losses in heartbreaking fashion. Seton Hall twice erased a late second-half deficit to beat Creighton, and both Xavier and Villanova took the Blue Jays into overtime before knocking them off. They also had that inexplicable collapse against Marquette in January as well as the late meltdown early in the season during a loss to Ohio State.
At long last, this "close but no cigar" season produced a quality win at Marquette last weekend. Coupled with convincing wins over DePaul and Georgetown in the previous week, Creighton is right back in the hunt for a bid.
One huge thing working in Creighton's favor is a great big zero in the bad losses column. The Blue Jays have been blown out on more than one occasion, but they have yet to lose to a team that entered Tuesday outside of the NCAA Evaluation Tool top 70.
On the flip side, it's hard to be that impressed with the wins when they've blown so many opportunities. The Blue Jays are 2-6 against the NET top 50 and 5-13 against the NET top 70. You can try to argue that Indiana is in a similar position, but the Hoosiers have five wins over surefire NCAA tournament teams while Creighton only has one. That's a significant difference.
Winning the season finale at home against DePaul is non-negotiable, but it won't do much to help Creighton's resume. Even a Big East quarterfinal win against a team like Georgetown or Xavier wouldn't provide a big boost. The Jays might need to beat either Villanova or Marquette in the semis. But they are at least back on the radar.
Tournament Odds: +330
Resume: 18-12, NET 40, KP 30, SOS 29, NC SOS 120, 1-10 vs. Q1, 4-2 vs. Q2, 12-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Current Spot in Bracket Matrix: Second-to-Last In
Remaining Schedule: vs. Syracuse, ACC Tournament (projected No. 9 seed)
Here's a question for my fellow Bracket Matrix participants: What is the justification for Clemson being ahead of Creighton at this point?
Both teams have 10 Quadrant 1 losses and just one win over a definite tournament team. Creighton won at Marquette when the Golden Eagles were at full strength. Clemson won a home game against Virginia Tech when the Hokies didn't have starting point guard Justin Robinson. Advantage: Creighton.
Creighton has three Q1 wins and nine combined Q1 and Q2 wins. Clemson is sitting at one and six, respectively. Advantage: Creighton.
Creighton's strength of schedule ranks about 20 spots better than Clemson's, and its nonconference strength of schedule is almost 100 spots better. Advantage: Creighton.
By the way, Creighton's second-best win was a neutral-site game against Clemson. Advantage: Creighton.
I don't think Creighton has a great chance of getting in, but it makes you wonder if Clemson even belongs in the conversation, in spite of its impressive NET and KenPom.com rankings. This team has had a ton of close calls against the likes of North Carolina, Louisville and NC State, but you need to win once in a while.
If the Tigers lose the season finale against Syracuse, they'll need to bounce back to beat NC State in the No. 8/9 game of the ACC tournament and probably win the subsequent game against the No. 1 seed, be that Virginia, North Carolina or Duke. Even if they beat the Orange (far from a given), a win over the Wolfpack might be necessary.
Tournament Odds: +300
Alabama Crimson Tide
Resume: 17-13, NET 55, KP 57, SOS 21, NC SOS 43, 2-8 vs. Q1, 7-3 vs. Q2, 8-2 vs. Q3/Q4
Current Spot in Bracket Matrix: Third-to-Last In
Remaining Schedule: at Arkansas, SEC Tournament (projected No. 9 seed)
What a brutal final homestand for Alabama.
Against LSU on March 2, the Crimson Tide went on an 18-4 run early in the second half to take a six-point lead, but they gradually coughed it up in a five-point loss to the Tigers. On Tuesday, Alabama was up by a dozen with less than 15 minutes remaining, only to watch Auburn come storming all the way back for a six-point win.
Either one of those games could have pushed the Crimson Tide comfortably into the NCAA tournament field of 68.
Instead, they're going to need to win at Arkansas on Saturday just to keep this sinking ship afloat. And Alabama is 1-9 at Arkansas dating back to the 2005-06 season, so good luck with that.
Just winning that game wouldn't be enough, though. If the Tide turn around and lose their SEC tournament opener—likely to be against Ole Miss, Florida or Mississippi State—they would have 14 losses (including a bad home loss to Georgia State), a few nice home wins over Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State—and not much of a case for a bid.
But winning that SEC opener would be huge, as it would immediately become their second-best win of the season.
However, if Alabama begins that remaining journey with a loss this weekend, it probably needs to reach the SEC semifinals by going through LSU, Tennessee or Kentucky. Suffice it to say, beating Arkansas seems like the easier path, even though that won't be simple.
Tournament Odds: +250
Arizona State Sun Devils
Resume: 20-9, NET 68, KP 64, SOS 77, NC SOS 42, 3-3 vs. Q1, 7-2 vs. Q2, 10-4 vs. Q3/Q4
Current Spot in Bracket Matrix: Fourth-to-Last In
Remaining Schedule: at Arizona, Pac-12 Tournament (projected No. 2 seed)
To paraphrase a Friends line from more than two decades ago: Every time I look at Arizona State's resume, I want to pull my arm off, just so that I can have something to throw at it.
The Sun Devils have great wins over Kansas and Mississippi State, nice wins over Utah State and Washington, and six other Quadrant 2 wins that don't individually impress but do look nice as a package deal. A combined 10 wins against the top two quadrants is a heck of a lot better than Clemson, Saint Mary's, Murray State, TCU, Temple, Indiana or UCF can boast.
But the losses. My gracious, the losses.
Arizona State had two horrible Quadrant 4 missteps at home against Princeton and Washington State. It also had not-great losses to Utah and Vanderbilt. Actually, with the exception of the neutral-site loss to Nevada, all of ASU's losses were to teams who aren't getting into the NCAA tournament without some sort of miracle during conference championship week. Five of those losses were by double-digit margins, too, including the 28-point loss at Oregon last week.
So what is the acceptable balance of quality wins to dreadful losses? And how great was that home win over Kansas, considering the Jayhawks were without Udoka Azubuike and considering how poorly that team has played on the road all season long?
Tough questions for the selection committee members to answer among themselves, and it will get even tougher if the Sun Devils lose another game before the Pac-12 championship.
If they lose at Arizona on Saturday, this probably becomes "auto bid or bust." But even a win over their rivals wouldn't guarantee anything. A bad loss in the Pac-12 tourney could still doom the Sun Devils to the NIT.
Tournament Odds: +225
Resume: 15-14, NET 56, KP 47, SOS 27, NC SOS 185, 6-9 vs. Q1, 1-5 vs. Q2, 8-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Current Spot in Bracket Matrix: Third Team Out
Remaining Schedule: at Illinois, vs. Rutgers, Big Ten Tournament (projected No. 10 seed)
With the possible exception of Syracuse in 2016, I cannot recall a more polarizing bubble resume than this one.
Indiana has several great wins. The Hoosiers swept Michigan State, won home games against Wisconsin, Marquette and Louisville and also picked up a couple of solid wins away from home against Butler and Penn State.
Moreover, the Hoosiers don't have any terrible losses. Five Quadrant 2 losses isn't great by any means, but it's worth noting that they were all against the top half of Quadrant 2 and they have not lost a game to a team outside of the NET top 100.
Every other team with at least six Q1 wins and nary a Q3 or Q4 loss is comfortably in the field as a projected single-digit seed. But because Indiana lost 12 out of 13 games between Jan. 6 and Feb. 22, everyone wrote the Hoosiers off as woefully undeserving of a bid.
If they can close out the regular season with wins over Illinois and Rutgers, though, they should be dancing. If Indiana also proceeds to beat its first-round opponent in the Big Ten tournament—most likely either Ohio State or Minnesota—it would just about become a lock for an at-large bid, depending on how many bid thieves are lurking in the mid-major conferences.
Remember, Vanderbilt got in as a No. 9 seed two years ago with 15 losses, and Oklahoma was able to sneak in as a No. 10 seed last year despite crashing and burning during the second half of the season. There are precedents for this type of resume not only getting into the field, but doing so comfortably.
Based on KenPom projections, though, Indiana only has a 33 percent chance of winning these last two regular-season games, which puts the odds at roughly 2-1.
Tournament Odds: +190
Resume: 21-8, NET 57, KP 75, SOS 89, NC SOS 220, 1-6 vs. Q1, 5-1 vs. Q2, 15-1 vs. Q3/Q4
Current Spot in Bracket Matrix: First Team Out
Remaining Schedule: at Connecticut, vs. UCF, AAC Tournament (projected No. 4 seed)
Temple's resume is an oldie but a goodie as far as the bubble goes: one great win (vs. Houston), one awful loss (vs. Penn) and 27 other games that don't do much to move the needle.
With the exception of an 18-point loss to Tulsa (NET No. 97), every Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 game the Owls have played was decided by 10 points or fewer. Unfortunately, that means they narrowly missed on six opportunities for quality wins and they didn't much flex their muscles in their five Quadrant 2 victories.
It also means neither the NET nor KenPom is enamored with this resume, since Temple rarely has won in blowout fashion. In fact, Temple's best KenPom ranking this season was No. 67, which it last reached right before the aforementioned bad loss to Tulsa in early February.
That can't be a good sign, right? You'd think an at-large caliber team would have at least been in the KenPom top 65 for a little while. Alas, Temple has not, and it likely needs to win both of its remaining regular-season games to remain in the mix for a bid.
And while we're talking about KenPom, it has Temple projected as a slight underdog in both of those games, so its odds of winning both are around 4-1. If the Owls go 1-1, they might need to beat a Houston or a Cincinnati in the AAC semifinals in order to get into the field.
Temple would likely sneak in if the tournament started today, but there's a lot of work ahead in order to maintain that status.
Tournament Odds: +150
Murray State Racers
Resume: 23-4, NET 50, KP 54, SOS 267, NC SOS 184, 0-2 vs. Q1, 1-2 vs. Q2, 22-0 vs. Q3/Q4
Current Spot in Bracket Matrix: Second Team Out
Remaining Schedule: Ohio Valley Tournament (double bye into semifinals)
Before we dive into any analysis here, let me just state that I want Ja Morant and Murray State in the NCAA tournament. This team is fun to watch and features the most exciting—and most NBA draft-noteworthy—player in the country not named Zion Williamson.
But if the Racers are unable to win the OVC tournament, don't hold your breath about the possibility of seeing Morant and Co. in the Big Dance.
They simply don't have the wins or the metrics to justify getting an at-large bid. Ranking roughly 50th in both the NET and KenPom is keeping the Racers in the conversation, but they don't have a single win against a team in the NET top 130.
The good news is they also don't have any losses to teams outside the NET top 135, and both of the Quadrant 1 games (at Alabama, at Auburn) were decided by just two possessions. In a season where scoring margin means more than it ever has before, maybe that will make a slight difference.
Also, if there has ever been a year for the selection committee to toss aside a bunch of less-than-mediocre major-conference resumes in favor of a small school that arguably deserves a chance to prove it belongs, this is that year.
If selection committee chair Bernard Muir came on after the brackets are revealed and said "you know, we just really wanted to see more of Murray State instead of Clemson or Creighton," would anyone outside of Greenville, South Carolina, and Omaha, Nebraska, blame him?
Jokes aside, Murray State better win the OVC tournament, which it has roughly a 40 percent chance of doing. Its at-large odds are slim to none, at best.
Tournament Odds: +135 (+750 if it loses in OVC tournament)
Seton Hall Pirates
Resume: 17-12, NET 63, KP 62, SOS 49, NC SOS 89, 5-7 vs. Q1, 6-3 vs. Q2, 6-2 vs. Q3/Q4
Current Spot in Bracket Matrix: Last Team In
Remaining Schedule: vs. Villanova, Big East Tournament (projected No. 7 seed)
From a purely results perspective, Seton Hall clearly has one of the best resumes among all bubble teams. The Pirates beat Kentucky (a potential No. 1 seed) on a neutral court. They also won a road game against Maryland, swept Creighton and won home games against St. John's and Butler. And even the bad losses (vs. DePaul, vs. Saint Louis) weren't that terrible.
To that already strong list, the Pirates added a colossal home win over No. 16 Marquette on Wednesday night, which bumps them from "just barely in" to "practically a lock."
Seton Hall's problem is that all seven of those wins came by a single-digit margin. Only one of its 14 best wins was by more than 10 points. Thus, the scoring margin and efficiency components of NET and KenPom have not been impressed by the Pirates.
But a home win over Villanova to end the regular season would make it impossible for the selection committee to keep these guys out of the tournament. And there's a reasonable chance the Pirates do win that one—especially given Villanova's struggles over the past month.
Even if they don't beat the Wildcats, the loss wouldn't damage their resume. They would still be right on the bubble at the start of the Big East tournament with another showdown against Marquette likely looming in the quarterfinals. But, again, a loss there wouldn't much damage this resume.
However, if the Pirates do get the No. 7 seed, that means an opening-round game against the last-place team (presumably Providence). If they fail to show up for that game, this could still be a photo finish.
Tournament Odds: -175
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.